Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 15

This post, covering Part 1, Chapter 15, is part of The Slavic Literature Pod’s chapter a day read along of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. Learn more about our project here.

At last, after trekking through camp and battlefield, we arrive at the core family of the novel: The Shaposhnikovs. Or, at least, we find part of the family — those who evacuated Stalingrad and have come to Kazan for refuge. 

In a similar way to how Leo Tolstoy uses the family life of War and Peace (especially that of the Rostovs) as a counter to build on the points he makes in war scenes, Grossman uses the divided Shaposhnikovs to convey war-life on the homefront. 

One key feature: Absence. We are introduced to the family with this line: “Again there was no letter from Tolya…” (p.68). Before even thinking of her daily life, our point-of-view character Lyudmila is wondering about her son in the army. From there, we learn more about the growing challenges of parenting pre-teen Nadya and Lyudmila’s growing distance from her husband. 

Part of the reason for her strained relationship with Viktor is another feature of the war: the kin of absence known as death. His mother Anna has been murdered by the Nazis — a fate he blames on Lyudmila’s resistance to moving her from Ukraine to their home in Moscow. 

These twinned children of the war — absence and loss — are known to nearly all involved in the war. It’s not just the mere fact of their existence that Grossman portrays here, but the effects they have on the living.